Empathy in Video Games and Other Media
Within this body of research, the current thesis demonstrates that a) inducing empathy before playing a violent video game can have both expected and contradictory effects and that b) a scale of media-based empathy facilitates and revises the measurement of empathy in the media context. Consuming...
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|Summary:||Within this body of research, the current thesis demonstrates that a) inducing empathy before playing a violent video game can have both expected and contradictory effects and that b) a scale of media-based empathy facilitates and revises the measurement of empathy in the media context.
Consuming violent media is neither a sufficient nor a necessary factor to explain violent behavior in media users. Instead, it is only one factor among others. However, this thesis claimed to consider empathy not only as a conditional pertinent protective factor when using media (i.e., empathy induction; Manuscript #1 & #2), but also as a general disposition in users (i.e., MBE; Manuscript #3). Contrary to suggestions by other research groups (e.g., Mar, Oatley, & Peterson, 2009), individual differences in media-based empathy may indeed be responsible for empathic reactions to fictional media use. The general pattern of relationships suggests, that even though similar to traditional empathy, MBE is a unique trait variable and reflects independent components of empathy (e.g., immersion in video games). Based on our current understanding, MBE examines a yet underappreciated personality trait in media users and thereby contributes to the research of media use and media effects.
Moreover, empathy with a media protagonist is no longer only considered a determinant of the entertainment experience (see Ritterfeld & Jin, 2006; Zillmann, 1991). Instead, a short, modest text- or clip-based empathy induction before game play can influence the effects of playing video games. While this approach has been tested for other factors before (e.g., activated self; Jin, 2011), this thesis explores the impact of experimentally induced empathy in the video game context for the first-time. In other words, focusing on the own character or adding emotional content to the storyline of a video game via pregame narratives can both ameliorate and enhance the deleterious effects of violent video games on prosocial and antisocial behavior. These findings stress the relevance of focusing not only on the content but also on situational and personality factors in users (e.g., MBE; see Gentile & Bushman, 2012) as well as interacting content factors (e.g., empathic storyline for a violent villain character; see Gentile, 2011) when exploring media effects. Even though the findings reported in this dissertation can be theoretically integrated into the structure of the General Aggression Model (GAM; Anderson & Bushman, 2002a), the results are better understood within the newly developed Differential Susceptibility to Media use Model (Valkenburg & Peter, 2013). As mentioned above, our findings regarding state empathy and trait MBE perfectly fit into this model as this model´s central focus is susceptibility factors like the ones identified in the present research. Testing the DSMM model in comparison to other more established theoretical models of media effects is a task for future studies.
The appropriateness of applying theoretical frameworks of traditional empathy to empathy in the media context is debatable and should be tested in the future. The results presented in this thesis underline the importance of conceptually separating both constructs. In the media context, the available information, the target, and the form of interaction differ (e.g., Barrett-Lennard, 1993). Media interactions are frequently idealized and empathy is therefore felt more easily (see Westermann, Spies, Stahl & Hesse, 1996). Furthermore, the media user needs imagination, as the characters may be fictional and the available information in the media is regularly presented only in excerpts (see Mar & Oatley, 2008). Batson (2009) advocated eight equally legitimated interpretations of the term empathy in the real world context. As this confusion regarding the term empathy and its interpretation and measurement has not yet been fully solved for traditional empathy, this complexity is expected to be even larger in the media context, due to all potential empathic interactions between real and fictional people in real or fictional contexts.
Nonetheless this dissertation broadens the horizon of potential moderators in media effects research. The important question how a specific media user reacts upon specific media content can be predicted more precisely when exploring the empathic potential of the media content and the media-based empathy in the user.|